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Review of the Historical Commentary on the Gospel of Mark

 by Michael Turton, 2005

Reviewed by Jacob Aliet, Dec. 2005

. 27

1. Introduction

This is a review of Michael A. Turton's Historical Commentary on the Gospel of Mark, which is a work in progress. The review aims at offering suggestions to improve the work whilst at the same time analyzing it and scrutinizing its method, interrogating the assumptions behind it and generally subjecting it to a critical assesment.

Close to a century ago, German scholar Hermann Gunkel (1862-1932), arguably the father of form criticism, set about exploring oral traditions, genres and settings in life of the old testament texts and developed comparisons between the Bible and literature scattered all over the world [1]. With respect to Genesis, he showed Egyptian influence in the Joseph romance, Moabite influence in the Lot legends and Babylonian influence in the stories of creation, flood and tower of Babel. His work exposed Greek parallels in narratives such as the three visitors to Abraham, Reuben’s curse, and the quarrel between Esau and Jacob. He showed how Israel adapted foreign themes and content to serve her own religious interests. This pursuit for parallels, Phyllis Tribble notes, “dislodged provincial interpretation to show that, far from being an isolated document, the Bible belonged to world literature” [2]

Since Gunkel’s efforts, several studies have been carried out on the Bible involving application of literary methods and the field of literary study of the Bible has expanded tremendously. It is from that background that Turton’s work unfolds like a tapestry, weaving modern approaches in New Testament scholarship with a literary analysis of the Gospel of Mark and meshing these with a historico-critical approach, exposing the literary structure of the Gospel of Mark and the resulting  historical implications. Turton’s work identifies the dominant and recurring themes in Mark and explicates the content (inventio), structure (dispositio) and style (elocutio) and shows how the narrative units in Mark work together, exposing the gospel as an artistic and aesthetically beautiful text, fulfilling James Muilenberg’s words: Scripture as artistic composition engages the ultimate questions of life [3]. The other pillar that hoists Turton’s work, other than the literary analysis of the gospel of Mark, is his detailed exposition of the literary borrowing by Mark from Old Testament scriptures and illustration of how Mark employed Hellenistic literary and dramatic conventions.

Turton’s central thesis is that a literary analysis of the Gospel of Mark demonstrates that it is a fictional product from the writer of the gospel. For example, the character of Peter, whose name means “the rock”, is ironically not strong enough to even acknowledge Jesus and is the only disciple that breaks down and weeps (Mark 14:72). Turton argues that in the parable of the sower in Mark 4, in the typology of the gospel, Peter represents rocky ground which fails to support the germinated seeds in the same way Peter fails to recognize and respond to Jesus. The conclusions Turton draws regarding the historicity of the characters and events in Mark present a remarkable contribution to the quest for the historical Jesus and Turton’s work is therefore of interest to anyone interested in historical Jesus studies.

2. The Approach

Turton first dispenses with positive criteria that conservative scholars use in historical Jesus studies then he uses the lessons learnt from the positive criteria to forge a robust set of negative criteria, which are undergirded by thoroughgoing skepticism and close attentiveness to the historical method. Using these negative criteria as a sounding board, Turton brings to bear analytic techniques employed in narrative criticism, rhetorical criticism, historical criticism and redaction criticism upon the gospel of Mark. The results of this endeavour are profound, epiphanic and powerful because Turton brings to life Markan ideas that have been struggling for expression, articulation and execution.

Turton presents his methodology upfront and justifies his approach for using “negative criteria”, which overcome the assumptive and subjective nature of the “positive criteria” employed by conservatives in New Testament scholarship. Backed by the works of scholar like Tomas L. Brodie, Turton advances the argument that the author of Mark modeled the events surrounding Jesus on the Elija-Elisha cycle and other Old Testament characters and prophecies. Though he performs a literary analysis on the gospel, Turton’s main objective is using the analysis to help in arriving at a judgement on the historicity of the events and characters in the Markan narrative.

A remarkable and novel idea from this work is the argument that the entire Gospel of Mark is organized in chiasms [4] and Turton proceeds to break down the gospel to chiasms, verse by verse, revealing a distinct Markan writing style which becomes instrumental in detecting the authentic from inauthentic passages from the first gospel. In antiquity, Phillys Trible notes, chiastic structures were used to aid memory, enhance argumentation and shape totality of thought [5].

Turton’s approach is multifaceted and a reading of the commentary is rewarding because it is rich with insights and rushes untrammeled, like light into the dark, into erstwhile unexplored grounds, exposing the pearls around every corner of the Markan narrative. The work draws from a wide range of scholarship and by its inclusion of all views on certain verses, the reader enjoys a broad vantage point from which they can interpret the gospel of Mark.

3. Terminology and Method

To some extent, the work makes heavy demands on the reader. The reader encounters terms like typology [6], doublet, chreia [7], tryptich, enthymemes, pericope, Markan redaction and so on without accompanying definitions.The reader is thus sometimes left to figure out what these words mean from the contexts in which they are employed, a situation that some can find very challenging. Let us examine a key example of this.

After employing the term "chiasm" five times, Turton writes:

Scholars have long recognized that Markan structure is chiastic, that is, composed of structures that are parallel and inverted. Such structures were commonly used in antiquity.

 The reader here is supposed to understand what a parallel and inverted structure is. No example is provided as a model, or what is supposed to be inverted in the ‘structures’. Wheras Turton does provide several examples of chiasms from Jorn Dart, Ann Tolbert etc., plus the ‘rules’ Turton uses to construct his own chiasms,  before instructing the reader on the nature and use of chiasms, the reader is ill-equipped to judge whether the chiasms presented are good chiasms or not and this in a way diminishes the readers appreciation of the chiasms presented. Powell defines a chiasm as a literary construction that provides a compositional relationship via a “repetition of elements in an inverted order: “a, b, c, a” (e.g., the elements evil/ good/ righteous/ unrighteous in Matt. 5:45).” [8] Powell’s definition does not mention parallelism and most chiasms indeed entail inversion, like the famous “ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” I will comment more on these later.

There is a lot of ground that Turton covers in his work and he employs a multidimensional approach in examining the texts including narrative criticism, form criticism, rhetorical criticism, historical criticism. Before delving deeper in the work, we need to be clear on the terminologies.

 Historical criticism deals with the referential function of a text whereas literary criticism seeks to understand the text itself. Form criticism concerns itself with the sitz im leben (settings of life) of the individual units of tradition (pericopes) in the gospels and redaction criticism analyzes the role of the evangelist in the text’s final stage of composition [9], that is, it analyzes the theologies and intentions of the evangelists by examining how they edited their sources and arranged individual units of tradition [10]. The weakness of form and redaction criticism is their inattentiveness to the narrative character of the Gospels.

Rhetorical Criticism is an approach in literary analysis that examines the means by which a work achieves a particular effect on the reader [11]. The rhetorical critic has two tasks: define the limits of a literary unit by using the criteria of form and content together with devices such as climax, inclusio and chiasm to set the boundaries. The second task is to discern structure: to delineate overall design and individual parts and how they work together, and explicate the functions of identified literary devices [12]. Narrative criticism, writes Powell, “interprets the text from the perspective of an idealized implied reader” [13] Because narrative critics are concerned with discerning the literary principles that the implied author follows in organizing their work, Turton plays the role of a narrative and rhetorical critic to judge the historicity of the events narrated in the gospel of Mark. He also uses the other approaches of analyzing texts, but to a lesser extent.

 A narrative critic concerns themselves with questions like:

 Why does Mark tell us that the woman in 5:25 had experienced a flow of blood “for 12 years”? Is the number 12 symbolic, recalling perhaps the 12 tribes of Israel? Is there any connection with the 12 baskets of food collected by the disciples later in the narrative (6:43, 8:19)? Or is the reference ironic, insofar as it presents Jesus as Jesus as being accosted by a woman who has bled for 12 years while on his way to heal another woman who is only 12 years old (5:42)? [14]

Turton uses the terms “redaction”, “Markan redaction”, “Markan creation” and “Markan style” in a synonymous sense. For example, when defining the 8th Criterion, he writes:

 “Criteria 8: Markan style/redaction impairs historicity.”

One would think that “Markan style” refers to the hand of Mark, that is, her style of writing, like arranging the pericopes in chiastic structures, using diminutives and words of Latin origin (Grant), using double negatives etc. And expect that “Markan redaction” refers to changes carried out by the author of Mark, to events in oral or written sources. And “redaction” [unqualified] to mean changes made to GMark by an unknown redactor – an interpolator.  

Whilst listing Ludemann’s negative criteria, Turton writes:

 “4. Redactional: Nothing from the hand of the final author of a source is historical”.

That Turton also means interpolation when he writes “redaction”, let us look at his criticism on Ludemann’s 4th criterion. Turton writes:

 “Criterion 4 assumes that everything by a later redactor is unauthentic, a manifestly unsupportable assumption, for history offers many examples of texts altered to conform to history by later redactors. Even if we discover or deduce that the Bethsaida section of Mark is interpolated, that does not mean it contains no history”

From the above, one may think that changes or insertions by a later redactor are indistinguishable from changes or creations by Mark herself. This reviewer was particularly confused by the usage of the above expressions in the work. Consider Mark 10:1 “And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again; and again, as his custom was, he taught them.” About which Turton notes:

 V1: Markan redaction. The text is unstable here as the Greek actually says "the region of Judea beyond the Jordan." But all of Judea lies west of the Jordan. Hence the RSV's translation, which eliminates this serious geographical error by translating it away.

I have provided my understanding of “Markan redaction” above. And this reviewer thinks that the above is a Markan error, or a geographical error, not a “Markan redaction” because “Markan redaction” would imply that the event narrated was borrowed from an earlier source, which the author of Mark redacted (or changed) to suit his purposes or his style. That is how redaction is conceptualized under redaction criticism. But Markan redaction, when applied as above, implies that there was an available text, like Koester’s Ur-Markus, that the author of GMark redacted.

4. Methodology

 Turton starts by dispensing with the “positive” historical Jesus research criteria as formulated by (among others) Brown (1994), Meier (1987), and Ludemann (2001). These criteria include:

(1.) Embarrassment (or Offensiveness) criterion - which holds that sayings and events that would have embarrassed the early church must be authentic or historical. (2.) Difference criterion – if a saying by Jesus was inconsistent with the practices or beliefs of post-Easter Christian communities, it must be authentic. (3.) Growth – if a unit has grown through later traditions, it must have an authentic core. (4.) Rarity (Discontinuity) criterion – sayings that differ with those of both Judaism and the early church must be authentic. (5.) Multiple (wide) Attestation criterion – if independent sources have the same saying, it must be authentic. (6.) Coherence criterion – a saying that is consistent with the rest in the database is likely to be authentic. (7.) Plausibility criterion – if it is believable, it must be authentic.

 Turton explains why these criteria cannot be relied upon to help us separate myth from fiction and dispenses with three of Gerd Ludemann’s five “negative criteria”. After wiping the slate clean, he presents twelve criteria that are freed from the weaknesses of the above criteria:

1: No events that violate natural law are historical.

2: No anachronisms are historical.

3: No events in which the logic of order precludes historicity are historical.

4: Where an event is disconfirmed in outside history, or where outside sources are silent on events that they apparently should discuss, historicity is severely impaired.

5. Where themes and motifs occur that are common in stories from antiquity, historicity is severely impaired.

6: Signals of creation from the Old Testament, such as parallels, citations, and allusions, severely impair historicity

7: Themes and motifs that appear to be creations of Mark severely impair historicity.

8: Markan style/redaction impairs historicity. 

9: Anything with a source in earlier non-Christian literature impairs historicity.

10: Anything that indicates erroneous understandings or ignorance of Jewish and Roman law and custom impairs historicity.

11: Where events are implausible, historicity is impaired.

12: Where a place name or character name appears to have theological significance, history is impaired.

One can argue, against criteria 12, that Israel (mentioned in C12 and C15) itself is a theophoric name (a name that bears reference to a deity) and therefore has “theological significance”, yet is historical. So criteria 12 need some sort of qualification to overcome that pitfall (like explaining what “theological significance” means). Or the qualification would be that, in addition to having a theological significance, if the place name is not attested elsewhere (outside the gospels), its historicity is impaired.

4.1 Markan Themes

Turton argues that portraying the disciples as dumb is a Markan theme. But how can we maintain this in the face of knowing that Homer also employed the ineptitudes of Odysseus’ crew in Odyssey to highlight the virtues of Odysseus and thereby make Odysseus appear more heroic and via the contrast, magnified his "wisdom, courage, and self-control" as Dennis McDonald argues in The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark (p. 23)? Would we then treat it as a Homeric theme?

And what if we find the other evangelists doing the same thing? In John, for example, Jesus tells the disciples that Lazarus has fallen asleep and they instead think that Lazarus is having a restful nap (11:12). Johannine theme?

In Matthew, Jesus shows that suffering and servant-hood are central to discipleship, the disciples “fail to grasp this essential component of his teaching (see for example 19:13-14, 23-25;20:20-28) and even rebuke him for thinking this way (16:22)” [15]

 Criteria 8 would confront similar challenges and Turton do well to explain, separately, what qualifies as “Markan style” and what qualifies as a “Markan theme.” Is Markan style “a style that is distinctly Markan”? If so, does the presence of a particular style in both Mark and the other gospels preclude it from being Markan? What distinguishes Markan chiasms from Matthean ones – or even chiasms found in the book of Judith? [16]

 Regarding Mark 1:1-14, Turton writes:

 Note the mention of important themes in Mark, including the sea (in the gospel of Mark, the narrative function of the Sea of Galilee is to divide the Jews and the Gentiles. When Jesus crosses it, he is crossing from one ethnos to the other), gentiles, and the Jordan. In the Gospel of Matthew this association is made plain in Mt 4:15.

 What are the Markan themes? Turton identifies the following as Markan themes:

 “no faith, no miracles, Jesus teaching, themes of rejection by those close to Jesus, “Jesus teaching in the countryside” (C6), “portrayal of the disciples as ignorant, self-aggrandizing clods” (C10) “the sea (the “narrative function of the Sea of Galilee is to divide the Jews and the Gentiles”), gentiles, “the Jordan” [17], “land-sea themes” (C1), “boats, the shore, crowds, and crowds amazed at Jesus' powers.” (C5), “a tree that represents the kingdom”, “secrecy” (C4), “theme of crowds following Jesus” (C3), “purity: who is inside, and who is outside”, “bread and eating” (C7), “the messianic secret” (v9) “the power of belief”, “rising in Markan miracles”, “Jesus giving private teaching in a house” (C9), “chief priests, scribes, and elders out to get Jesus”,” the Temple itself and violence in and against it”, “the True King, the Temple, and violence”(C11) “parallel to the Eljah-Elisha Cycle”,” making the chief priests and scribes the equal of the priests of Ba'al”. “presentation of Jesus as Simon Maccabaeus, as David, and as the High Priest”, ”Simon/Jesus comparison”, “irony” (C12), “fisherman, palm branches and reeds”, ”cornerstone”, ”the messianic phrase "on that day." (C13)

 Let us look at “Markan irony”. Regarding Mark 15:30-32, where the chief priests mock Jesus that he saved others yet he cannot save himself, Turton writes:

 “Markan irony, of course, since Jesus will rescue himself by living again.”

And about Mark 12:14, Turton writes:

 “Markan irony: the Pharisees and Herodians believe they are lying when they identify Jesus as a teacher of the truth, but in fact their false belief is true, just as the Roman soldiers falsely believe they are making fun of Jesus when they call him ‘King.’”

Boris Upensky defines irony as a “nonconcurrence” of point of view as revealed through actions, speech, beliefs or motives. [18] Irony is “always the result of disparity of understanding” [19]

Powell writes:

Our gospels are filled with ironic moments. In Luke, a Pharisee thanks God he is not like a certain tax collector without realizing it is the latter that God considers justified (18:9-14). In Mark, James and John ask to be placed at Jesus’ right and left (10:35-40), not knowing that these positions will be occupied by people on crosses (15:27). In fact, the basic storyline of our gospels are built upon extended ironies: the people of Israel reject their messiah: God’s own son is accused of blasphemy by characters who are themselves blasphemous; people opposed to God serve as unwitting instruments in bringing Gods will to pass. Such ironies are rooted in a theme found in all four Gospel narratives, namely, the idea that God’s rule comes in ways that people do not expect. [20]

What the above means is that irony itself, as a rhetorical device meant to help the reader understand the narrative, is not distinctly Markan as the phrase “Markan irony” implies. One may feel uncomfortable with the expression Markan irony without an explanation of how it is distinctly “Markan”.

 Powell treats what Turton calls “land-sea themes” as temporal settings in Mark:

 The importance of boundaries can also be observed in the Gospel of Mark as in the frequent instances of Jesus teaching people by the shore of the Sea of Galilee. At one point, mark even describes Jesus as teaching from a boat (4:1). Thus Jesus himself is pictured as being on the sea while the crowd seems on the land. Such images are fraught with possibility for mediation between spatial opposites. The connotation of such a spatial setting may reflect mediation that is going on at other levels of the narrative as well.

 I suggest that Turton’s work will attain better structural elegance if the “themes”, which appear varied, are grouped or classified.

4.2 Markan Styles

Turton notes that Markan styles include:

 “using diminutives and words of Latin origin; both kinds of words being typical of colloquial speech.”, using “the verb 'to be', especially in the imperfect tense, with a participle, instead of other verbs in the imperfect”, “crowding a sentence with participles”, ”using double negatives”(Michael Grant), not placing “a geographical location in a larger context” (Gundry), “laconic style” (C1) “,referring back to passages he has already paralleled”, “hiding ironic truths in errors of identification by the characters, especially Jesus' opponents” (C3), having one story commenting on the other when they are sandwiched together [21]”, having “a pithy comment recapitulating or remarking on a prolix one” (C8), “retort or rejoinder” or “setting and riposte” (C11, C12) , “disjointed style”,  “vocabulary, such as watch, asleep, hour, and come”(C13), “A-B-A' chiastic structure, one event is sandwiched inside another… followed by a chreia” (C2). Literary habits: (a) “move scenes along with great rapidity and power” (b) “repeating keywords, phrases, sentences, structures, even whole scenes” (c) sandwiching “events and stories inside other events and stories, a practice called, ‘framing’ or ‘intercalating.’” (C5) chiastic brackets speaking to each other, “pericope pivoting around a saying” (C6) “chiastic structure with simple exterior and complex parallel / paired interior”, “structure along the Elijah-Elisha cycle” (C10). Creative habits: “grabbing structures and stories from the OT.” (C12)

I suggest that an exposition of Markan styles in the introductory pages of the commentary would improve the presentation better and place the reader in a receptive frame of mind to better appreciate Markan styles as they read the commentary, chapter by chapter.

 About the Plausibility criterion (7th positive criterion) Turton writes:

 This criterion is rejected by Ludemann (2001, p5) who considers it to be "too woolly," but is championed by Theissen and Merz (1998, p116), and implicitly, by other exegetes.

He criticizes it on the same page:

 Plausibility cannot function as a criterion of historicity. In fact, it may well indicate the opposite, since history does not have to be plausible, while invention may have to be in order to be creditable.

 Without qualification, Turton writes: “11: Where events are implausible, historicity is impaired.” Turton himself has already noted that “history does not have to be plausible”. The principle in Turton’s criteria 11 appears to be the same one at work in the 7th positive criterion and if one of them has to go, they both have to go. Inverting or reversing the criterion just changes the side of the blade of this double-edged sword that one chooses.

 Perhaps the 4th criterion could be split because it combines the argument from silence with argument of disconfirmation by external sources, which are two distinct arguments.

 The rest of the criteria appear fine though they could do with some supporting examples (upfront) and descriptive names, like Naturalistic criterion, Criterion of Anachronism, Criterion of Dependence, Criterion of disconfirmation and so on. When the reader clearly understands the criteria upfront, they are better persuaded when they see them at work.

4.3 Chiasms

I suggest that chiasms be defined upfront alongside the methodologies because as it is, the reader is forced to walk into Mark not knowing what a Markan “style” is and what a chiasm is and they are “served” chiasms before they have been adequately weaned to chiasms: in essence, the first two chiasms are wasted on the reader because the reader cannot appreciate them. When the reader finally reaches the Excursus: Chiastic Structures in Mark, that is the time that they are introduced to chiasms as follows:

 Scholars have long recognized that Markan structure is chiastic, that is, composed of structures that are parallel and inverted. Such structures were commonly used in antiquity. Proposed chiastic structures for the Gospel of Mark have in the past foundered on the inability to spell out rules for constructing them, resulting in great subjectivity and widespread disagreement among scholars over the actual structure of the chiasms.

 The statement “Such structures were commonly used in antiquity” could do with examples that support the assertion that they were “common”. As I am sure Turton is aware, most people are skeptical about Mark being written in chiasms. To make such a statement without illustrating that these chiasms were indeed common does not reduce the presumed level of skepticism. The reader of course, may also be interested in knowing, why they (the ancients) were using chiasms? (I have offered a suggestion above). Some footnotes or references would be good in that section to clear the nagging discomfort of novelty; whether these proposed structures were advanced by Dart, Tolbert, etc. This is especially important since the central thrust of Turton’s thesis (Mark being a work of fiction) threatens established views. This groundwork must be secure and rigorous so that when the structure emerges (entire Mark in chiasm) and conclusions are arrived at, they enjoy a good foundation and fit in a clear framework. Turton provides ten rules for Constructing Markan Chiasms.

 Nine rules are pretty clear. But it is unclear what constitutes a “twinned center” in rule 2. Rule 2 states:

 “All Markan chiasms have twinned centers. Many of the centers contain more complex ABBA, ABAB, or ABCABC structures.”

 In fact, the phrase “twinned center” occurs only once in the 568 pages that make up  HCGM. ABBA appears to have a twinned center, but is ABCABC equally having a twinned center or a “more complex” structure? Because of this uncertainty, the reader is unable to know whether Turton is following rule #2 when he proposes a chiasm with the ABCDEFGHIJAB JABIHGFEDCBA structure for Mk 5:21-43.

What is to stop one from splitting an ABA chiasm arbitrarily to an ABBA chiasm just so as to satisfy rule#2?

 Consider the following bracket:

 ....E If any man has ears to hear, let him hear.

....E And he said to them, "Take heed what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For to him who has will more be given; and from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away."

 It is unclear why the above is split to twins. Is the word “hear” used as a boundary? If so, it should be added to rule number 9 which indicates that the word “for” can mark the beginning of a bracket. If not, readers must ache for an explanation when they encounter that chiasm.

 It is also unclear why the split below has been carried out. In fact, it contradicts rule number 5: Speeches, regardless of length, must be single brackets, so long as they are one speech directed at one audience.

 ....F And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? 

....F Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." 

 One item that is absent in the rules for constructing Markan chiasms is the idea of brackets paralleling each other or opposing each other within a chiasm, yet Turton uses this unwritten rule to question the authenticity of 15:28:

 “It has no opposite in the chiastic structure of this passage, another point against it.”

The following chiasm of Mark 15:16-20 that Turton beautifully presents exemplifies what I mean by opposites. Note how A’ opposes A and so on:

 A And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the praetorium);and they called together the whole battalion. 

….B And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it ….on him. 

........C And they began to salute him, "Hail, King of the Jews!" 

........C’ And they struck his head with a reed, and spat upon him, and they knelt down in …….homage to him.

….B’ And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak, and put ….his own clothes on him. 

A’ And they led him out to crucify him. And they compelled a passer-by, Simon of Cyre'ne, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. And they brought him to the place called Gol'gotha (which means the place of a skull). 

 A rule that is cognizant of this feature IMHO, should be included among the rules.

From Mark11:1-11, Turton constructs the following chiasm:

B And they went away,

C and found a colt tied at the door out in the open street; 

……D and they untied it.

……D’ And those who stood there said to them, "What are you doing, untying the colt?"

C’ And they told them what Jesus had said;

B’ and they let them go.

The B bracket has geographic movement, which should be contained in the A bracket. It is also unclear how the C brackets are related; one refers to speech and the other has action. This chiasm appears to violate the rules for chiasms presented by Turton.

The idea of the entire Mark being made up of chiastic structures is evocative of Paul Duke’s caveat about what Scholars and critics in the quest of ironies are prone of. Duke wrote:

 Once they have caught the thrill of the hunt, [they are prone to] become downright intoxicated, not only bagging their limit so to speak, but opening fire on everything in the text that moves [22]

 What this means is that one must guard against the creativity of the critic being imposed on, or being presented as that of the author and it is a suspicion harbored by many. To dispel this notion, the rules must be made crystal clear upfront to enable the readers to test the rest of the work with those rules.

5. About Mark (6-8) Without Bethsaida

The Bethsaida section lies between Mark 6:45 and 8:26 and among other events narrated in that section, Jesus goes to Bethsaida twice (in 6:45 and 8:22). Scholars have been skeptical of its authenticity on account of its un-Markan language, themes and references. Helmut Koester (1990) argued that it is a non-Markan passage because it is missing in parallel passages in Luke.

Turton joins other scholars in arguing that the Bethsaida section was interpolated into Mark later except he uses a literary analysis to detect the tampering and argues that the redaction was much more pervasive and too varied to be framed into a dichotomous Markan/non Markan question.

Turton deals with the Bethsaida section verse by verse and unveils the fingerprints of the redactor and the resultant distortions and finally presents a reconstructed Mark without Bethsaida.

The arguments he makes are good and convincing though somewhat lengthy. I would suggest he presents the reader with the arguments that show that the section has been tampered with, in point form.

6. Geopolitical, Topographical and Architectural Settings in Mark

Here, we examine Turton’s analysis of what Elizabeth Struthers Malbon treats as the geopolitical, topographical and architectural settings in Mark [23]

Turton writes regarding C11:1-11:

v1: OT construction is evident here in the writer's decision to begin Jesus' entry into Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, reflecting the widespread belief in ancient Judaism that the Messiah would begin his work on the Mount of Olives (Josephus records individuals actually attempting to carry this out). This is based on the passage in Zech 14:4:

4 On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. (NIV)

v1: Just as the Mount of Olives and the Temple Mount face off throughout the rest of the Gospel of Mark, so in the OT mountains frequently face each other in paired opposition, for example, Horeb and Carmel in 1 Kings 18 and 1 Kings 19, and Ebal and Gerizim in the Pentateuch.

Turton writes in C13:

The Mount of Olives is where the messiah traditionally will begin his triumph and restoration of Israel (Zech 14:4). Note how in v3 Mark has set the Mountain and the Temple in opposition to each other, and how, once again, an epiphany is delivered on a mountain. Jesus was facing the Temple Treasury; now he faces the entire Temple. This opposition of Temple to mountain recalls the similar oppositions that occur in such eschatological texts as Zechariah 14, Joel 3, and Ezekiel 38-9, where Mt. Zion is opposed to the Temple and where God sits upon it to pass judgment on his enemies (Fletcher-Louis 1997). Zech 14 plays an important role in Mark. In Daniel 2 the Kingdom of Israel is envisioned as a mountain that fills the whole earth. This complex imagery is itself simply a subset of a larger myth complex of cosmic mountains that is found all over the ancient Near East.

It is not clear whether Turton is using the word “opposition” in the above passage in a structuralist sense. If he is, as I think he is, there is more that needs to be said lest the meaning is lost on the reader. What is the myth complex of cosmic mountains?

Wheelwright has suggested that the symbolic function of these settings is to inject “ancestral vitality” in the narrative by linking the events in the narrative with Israel’s past [24] as we can see in the example Turton has provided above (Mount of Olives being derived from Isaiah). This is similar to the symbolic portrayal of the desert in Mark as a place for testing where Jesus is tested for 40 days just like the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 days in the OT. Powell writes:

“The mountain is a place of refuge, safety and revelation, a role that it also plays in stories of Moses and Elijah – both of whom appear with Jesus in 9:4…The schematic theme underlying these topographical oppositions is the contrast of promise and threat. Heaven represents promise in Mark’s story. God’s spirit and voice come from heaven (1:10, 11; 9:7) and it is to heaven that characters look for an experience of God’s power (6:41; 7:34). Characters fall to the earth, on the other hand, when they are beset by sickness or sorrow (9:20; 14:35). The promise of treasure in heaven is contrasted with the danger of maintaining treasure on earth (10:21)… Just as a shoreline can mediate between the opposition of land and sea, so also mountains can mediate between heaven and earth. Mountains are closer to heaven and earth than the rest of the earth and so are an ideal place for prayer (6:46) and revelation (9:2). Notably, it is “to the mountains” that residents of Judaea are to flee when the great tribulation comes (13:14)” [25]

In a comment that is evaluative of the usage of architectural settings in Mark, Turton notes that C10:10-12:

“ us Jesus instructing the disciples in a house, a common redactional feature, as well as an explanation for the disciples, another redactional feature.”

Malbon (ibid) argues that the architectural settings in Mark entail a thematic contrast between locations that are logically sacred and profane. Buildings for example, can be considered more profane than tombs. Malbon groups the buildings into religious and residential ones. A temple should logically be more sacred than a house, but in Mark, we observe the opposite [26]. Powell notes:

“The temple is condemned as ‘a den of robbers’ (11:17) and houses become the principal site for teaching and healing. God’s greatest work of all occurs not in the temple, or in any building, but in a tomb (16:1-8). Thus, Mark’s story assigns a more positive value to those architectural spaces closest to the profane pole. Ultimately, however, the point may be that no space can contain that which is truly sacred, for the tomb does not hold Jesus either. The empty tomb, the ruined temple, and the reconstitution of the house as a place for teaching and healing all bear witness to what Malbon identifies as a breakdown of any opposition of sacred and profane in Mark’s story” [27]

6.1 A Note on “The Way”

In C9, Turton writes: “v33: ‘the way.’ The Way is a common motif in Mark.” Since Turton is classifying this expression by referring to it as “a motif”, it would be good to define what a motif is.

Rhoads and Michie (Mark as Story) and Malbon have written on this pattern of movement in Mark described as “the way” and they argue that it is an artifact of the usage of journey as a feature as is evident in Hellenistic literature like Odyssey. We also have journeys in Dante’s Divine Comedy and J.L Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings. Powell regards journeys as a setting in Mark:

“Mark uses the term way a total 16 times. At the beginning of the story, John “prepares the way” for Jesus (1:2, 3). Jesus not only travels throughout Galilee and beyond, but also sends his disciples “on the way” (6:8). Then Jesus sets out “on the way” to Jerusalem (10:32) where, when he arrives, he is hypocritically flattered as one who “teaches the way of God” (20:21). Rhoads and Michie believe “the way” in Mark is actually the way of God. [28] Being on the way means being more than simply moving through a physical landscape but signifies moving toward what god has set…the way signifies a movement by Jesus’ disciples toward understanding and acceptance of what Jesus represents. Jesus is described as “going ahead” of his disciples on the way and they are described as following in some amazement (10:32). In another instance, Jesus asks them what they have been discussing “on the way” and they are too ashamed to confess that, ironically, their concern “on the way” has been with their own prestige and privilege (4:33-34). [29]

This analysis can be placed alongside Turton’s note in C12 of "the way" as a set of teachings (Winberry 1998).

7. Presentation

I suggest that Turton spends at least two chapters laying out the groundwork of his thesis. These chapters should cover the methodology (the negative criteria, rhetorical and narrative criticism), the literary analysis and a classification of the literary features identifiable in Mark. These chapters can serve as a preview into the rest of the work whilst equipping readers with the necessary foundation to enable them appreciate what is to come. The readers should not be allowed to step into the text before they have been properly instructed on what method of analysis Turton employs.

I would also urge Turton to comment on the views from other scholars in his commentary, where he disagrees with such views. This ensures that the reader is guided and not liable to perceive contradictions incorrectly.

Questions touching on the gospel of Thomas, Markan familiarity with paul and the existence of Q require detailed handling in separate chapters in my view so that they get a full treatment and so that they are not eclipsed by other views.

8. Suggestions on Sources Problematic Phrases

This section is like a sort of appendix and comprises miscellaneous suggestions and comments from the reviewer on various issues in no specific order.

 “This is also a Cynic thought” (C3) should be: “This is a Cynic way of thinking”

There are even similarities in the Greek” (C5) – examples would strengthen the argument.

It would help if an explanation accompanied the Antiquities passage where Josephus narrates Eleazar’s demonstration of exorcism (C5).

Consider moving the Excursus: Literary Structures in Mark (C5) somewhere in the introductory pages.

The logic in the statement “Galilee is so small it can be crossed on foot in a couple of days, so their omission is difficult to explain.” (C6) is unclear. The common argument, if I understand correctly, is that a place can fail to gain mention because it is too small.

The claim “There are many ways this scene can be interpreted as fiction.” needs to be demonstrated.

I am surprised at the minimal use of MacDonald (whom Turton mentions twice) especially with respect to Hydropatesis (water-walk) and his OT parallel of the death of John the Baptist and I thought I would see a consideration of MacDonald’s argument that Jesus as a character in Mark is an inversion of Hector and Achilles in the Iliad. Carrier notes in his review of Homeric Epic and the Gospel of Mark:

…while the death of Hector doomed Troy to destruction, Jesus' death doomed the Temple to destruction.  According to MacDonald, these themes and others guide Mark's construction of the passion narrative, and though borrowing from the Old Testament and other Jewish texts in the passion account is far more prevalent than anywhere else in his Gospel, there is still a play on the Iliad evident in various details. [30]

I suggest that the statement: “where Jesus has compassion on the beggar, and which Bart Ehrman has argued persuasively is an insertion.” would do well with a footnote so that the reader can have a taste of the alleged persuasiveness.

Turton writes (C12):

Chapter 11 is the prologue for the final three chapters, in which the Parable of the Tenants serves as the synopsis of coming events, a common feature of Hellenistic popular literature. 

Again, in this instance, giving a few examples to the readers to show that this was “a common feature of would of Hellenistic popular literature” would be good IMHO.

Readers may be interested in knowing why Mark 7:16 is considered spurious.

Regarding Mark 7:31, Turton comments as follows:

While some exegetes have argued that the verse is unhistorical because it shows that "the Evangelist was not directly acquainted with Palestine" (Nineham 1963, p40), my own experience of pre-industrial cultures indicates that even people who have lived in a region for many years may not be aware of which direction things are, since they orient themselves by landmarks rather than by compass points. No judgment about either Mark's experience of Palestine or historicity that can be made based on the description of Jesus' journey.

Is a sea not a “landmark”? In rural areas, permanent water masses are used as landmarks. For example, one can be directed: “once you have crossed the lake, you will see a huge baobab tree…” or, “follow this path until you come to a swamp, then take the path that is at the right side of the swamp…”

Regarding C8:13-21, Turton writes: “A chiasm can be constructed, but it makes no sense at all, merely an artistic arrangement of the sentences. The less said about it, the better. The writer of Mark never had a hand in this one.”

The phrase, “The less said about it, the better” may be problematic for it does not clarify the matter.

Turton writes: “Tacitus recounts a famous story in which a blind man begs Vespasian to place the Emperor's spittle on his eyes.” This allusion, may do better with a the reference to the passage.

The phrase “v44, v46: considered interpolations by the majority of scholars.” requires some supporting footnotes.

I think an example of a fivefold attic drama (mentioned when explaining the fivefold structure of Markan features) would help the reader appreciate the implication that they were common.

9.1 Stageability and Historicity

Turton writes:

Further, none of Jesus' miracles represent actions that would have been physically difficult or materially complicated and expensive to portray on stage. Jesus doesn't fly, move mountains, cast lightning, or transform one object into another. Instead, the blind see, the lame walk, demons leave their hosts, and a fig tree wilts. Clearly, the Gospel of Mark could easily be staged by a non-professional cast and crew on short notice, with a minimum of sets and equipment.

Just about anything “could easily be staged by a non-professional cast and crew on short notice”. It depends on desired quality or effect of whatever is being portrayed: heavens opening with a dove flying down accompanied by a voice, the temple curtain getting ripped into two, hydropatesis, drowning 20000 pigs.

These can all be achieved on a stage and I do not find the argument compelling. Even the collapse of World Trade center can be acted on a stage. One can argue that drowning pigs in a sea, or simulating an earthquake may not be easily be staged by a non-professional cast and crew. Without a standard for determining what could easily be staged by a non-professional cast and crew; it is difficult to judge. The argument can also be challenged: does the fact that Joseph and his technicolour coat can be acted on a stage mean that the story was meant to be performed? I think they are two separate issues and one has got nothing to do with the other.

8.2 Entry into Jerusalem

Turton may consider including Doherty’s analysis of the triumphant entry into Jerusalem in C11 because the scene is further made implausible when one considers the unlikelihood of the sophisticated residents of Jerusalem spreading their garments on the path of Jesus, an unknown peasant from Galilee, perched on the back of a colt. [31]

On the entry of Jesus in Jerusalem on the back of a colt, Turton writes:

v2: As many exegetes have noted, an unridden colt signifies a colt for the King, since no one but the King was allowed to ride the colt without his express authorization.

It would be useful to support the “many exegetes” claim with a reference and enlighten the reader on what sources indicate that “no one but the King was allowed to ride the colt”.

Against Price, Turton argues that:

“…that the speaking is done not by a crowd but most probably by disciples who have come into Jerusalem. with Jesus. No crowd is ever directly mentioned, just the "many" who spread their garments on the road or lined it with branches.”

I think it is unlikely that Mark would vaguely refer to the disciples, who are among the central characters in the Markan narrative, as “many.” And by numerically referring to “two of his disciples” as being sent by Jesus, Mark is keen to alert the reader regarding the number of disciples involved in each activity. Also, having the disciples declare “Hossana” etc, would be inconsistent with the Markan theme of portraying the disciples as thick-headed because it would mean that the disciples had decided (since we wouldn’t consider them capable of mocking Jesus) that Jesus was the Davidic messiah.

This reviewer, contrary to Doherty and Turton (and closer to Price), regards the “many” (in “9: And those who went before and those who followed cried out, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”), as other pilgrims who were also trooping into Jerusalem. But this would still leave open the question: why would the pilgrims pick this specific “pilgrim’s” path to spread their garments on? Without an explanation, the scene as it is remains implausible.

8.3 Tension between Radicalism and Conservatism

In C11, Turton writes:

“In summary, although judgments of outright fiction are generally implied rather than stated in this commentary…”

This conservative statement is not consistent with the following statements made by Turton:

“all of the evidence of Jesus' relationships with John are contained in what are generally acknowledged to be fictions from the hand of the writer of Mark.”(C1) “Since the healings are most probably fictions created by the author of Mark working off of the Old Testament, that implies that the "Kingdom of God" is either a fiction from the hand of the writer of Mark, or was originally unrelated to the healing tradition.”(C1), “Miracles do not occur; both stories are fictional.”(C5), “there are many ways this scene can be interpreted as fiction.”(C6), “Since, as we have seen, the Gethsemane scene is a fiction of the writer of Mark based on 2 Sam 15-17 and the Elijah-Elisha Cycle”(C7), “The pericope is invention based on fictional events in Mark 6 and previously in this chapter”(C8), “If the Gospel of Mark is fiction, and it gives every appearance of being so, then there is no reason to locate the writer's community within the areas the writer shows eschatological interest in…”(C13), “The trial as Mark portrays it is a total fiction.” (C14)

Turton may need to clarify this.

It is unclear under which criteria the “the banality of the injunction to forgive” (C11) is used to discount historicity.

Regarding C12:6 He had still one other, a beloved son; finally he sent him to them, saying, `They will respect my son.’ Turton writes:

v6: A supernatural prophecy of Jesus' death.

The word ‘supernatural’ appears superfluous since the ability to see the future (prophecy) is not considered ‘natural’ in humans. But more importantly, the equation of a parable to a prophecy may be confusing to some.

Mark 12:7 But those tenants said to one another, `This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.'

About this, Turton writes:

v7: The parable is on its face is absurd, for how could the tenants inherit the farm if they were the killers of its heir? J. D. H. Amador (1992) has attempted to explain this absurdity using a sociological reading of the parable against the economic desperation of the Palestine peasantry in the first century.

The answer to Turton’s question is: the passage does not say the tenants would inherit the farm if they killed the heir: it has them plotting to own the inheritance upon killing the inheritor. The key point being that they wanted to possess the farm, not inherit it.

Why is C13: 9-11 excluded from the analysis?

The statement “its dependence on the OT, its dependence on the Septaugint[sic]” may appear to mean the OT is different from the Septuagint, which may not be the meaning Turton intends to convey above.

8.4 Markan Acquaintance with Pauline Epistles

Mark 12:36:

David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, declared, `The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I put thy enemies under thy feet.' 37: David himself calls him Lord; so how is he his son? And the great throng heard him gladly.

This is inconsistent with Pauline attribution of Jesus as being “of the stock of David” Romans 1:3. It would be interesting to see how Turton, who argues that Mark was acquainted with Pauline epistles, resolves this apparent conflict. Is Mark engaging in anti-Pauline polemic here?

8.5 Thomasine Dependence on Mark

About the rebuttals to arguments that favor Thomasine dependence on Mark, it would be good to have footnotes on which Egyptian text Proverbs 17-24 is based upon. One may also question the suitability of the analogy considering the disparity of the sizes of the texts being compared. I think Turton does a fine job of critiquing the idea that GThom preceeded GMark but there are arguments that are repeated especially the ones dealing with temple cleansing (which is tackled in Chapter 11). Consider using see and see also references, or treating both under one platform.

8.6 Temple Ruckus

The temple ruckus is one that Turton has shown persuasively and thoroughly to be ahistorical. I would just like to nitpick a little.

Turton writes:

v48: Although some exegetes have seized upon the word "robber" here (which might also mean "insurrectionist") to say that Jesus was arrested as a political revolutionary, Paula Fredriksen (1988, p116) pointed that if Jesus had been arrested for political reasons, he would have been taken straight to Pilate. There would have been no trial before the Sanhedrin, and no need of one. However, the cogency of Fredriksen's argument hinges on whether the reader accepts that the Sanhedrin Trial is historical. If the writer invented it, then her argument is null.

I think Fredricksen’s argument stands either way. Her referential argument gauges historicity of the trial by using the Roman practices of handling insurrectionists as a sounding board. She assumes historicity for the sake of argument then compares the resulting conclusion with other data and she reaches conclusions similar to Turton’s. This is perfectly acceptable and logically sound IMO.

8.7 Young Man Fleeing Naked – and The Party

Regarding Mark 14:51 where we have the scene of the young man who fled naked, Turton compares parallels between Mark 14 and 2 Samuel 15-16 and has the following “parallel”:

Mark 14: A young man betrays Jesus by running away

2 Samuel 15-16: A young man betrays David by informing on his followers.

Turton writes elsewhere: “Yet exegetes have found it extremely difficult to pin down exactly what Judas "betrayed.”; in the Judas example, Turton is exacting with regard to what constitutes ‘betrayal’. Yet in the parallel above, he presents the mere act of running away as “betrayal”. At best, running away can be desertion, not betrayal. What did the young man betray, a code of concealment? One may argue that in Samuel, David as king may have expected loyalty from his subjects, plus, the young man actually revealed information that jeopardized the safety of David and his followers. But in Mark, Jesus is a man walking around with a gang of twelve illiterate, thumb-fingered boneheads. Why would a faceless, unidentified teenager who is not one of Jesus’ disciples, betray Jesus by running away from people out to grab him? The lad was running for his dear life.

On the basis of the above, one may argue that the above parallel does not fit because betrayal entails violation of some bestowed or expected trust. The fact that this young man is presented fleeing naked without even being introduced or named means his role is purely transitory and not central to the plot (compare this to Joseph of Arimathea who we are told was a member of the Sanhedrin, a group of spiritually obtuse people [per Mark] – Joseph’s character is used to show that even among hopeless groups, if one believes, they get saved and to move the plot further – recall the faith motif). The reader is not made to empathize, sympathize or to be antipathetic to the naked young man. At best, he is meant to provide some humor by being a spectacle. And unlike Carrier, I will get invited to all parties at Turton’s house.

Turton would also help readers understand the formula below by including supporting examples for the statement: “’I am’ is a formulaic term of self-revelation commonly used by gods and goddesses in the Greek-speaking world, according to Fowler”

The above applies to the claim: “Galileans were lampooned for being dull-witted and provincial.”

8.8 Philo and Pilate

I expected Turton to mention Philo when commenting on Mark 15:15: “So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barab'bas; and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. “

According to Philo, Leg. Ad Caium 38, Agrippa I described Pilate in a letter to Caligula as “inflexible, merciless, and obstinate” and as having been guilty of “corruption, violence, robbery, ill-usage, oppression, illegal executions and never-ending most grievous cruelty”

Of course, Agrippa’s characterization of Pilate may be hyperbolic, but the fact remains that that characterization is not consistent with the portrayal of Pilate in Mark as an indecisive, spineless, moralistic, off-handed puppet that bends to the wills of a rowdy crowd. This, in my view, argues against historicity of the trial before Pilate as narrated in Mark.

I suggest considering inclusion of the following in the commentary on the mocking scene, which has been argued to be derived from Philo’s Flaccus, Book IV:

·        The purple robes represented a soldier’s paludamentum – a scarlet military cloak.

·        Hail King of the Jews, i.e. Ave rex Judarorum, is a parody of Ave Caesar Imperator

·        Alongside the above, the crown of thorns represents the emperor’s laurel wreath.

8.9 Doublet Meets a Pleonasm

Turton writes regarding Mark 15:26:

The RSV once again smoothes out the writer's awkward doublets, for in Mark's Greek the "inscription" is "inscribed."

An “inscribed inscription”, just like the expression “hot fire” sounds like a pleonasm (a feature of Matthean style) rather than a doublet. A definition of what a doublet is would help clarify this.

Regarding Mark 15:35, where Jesus is dared to rescue himself, Turton comments:

Markan irony, of course, since Jesus will rescue himself by living again.

This statement, one would argue, is inconsistent with adoptionist Christology since according to adoptionist Christology, Jesus does not rescue himself: God is the one who “rescues” him.

Chiasms that are incorrect, like Tolbert’s Chiastic structure of Markan Crucifixion I and Chiastic Structure of Markan Crucifixion II, should be left out altogether. The chiasms presented on the crucifixion scene are particularly problematic for example:

8.10 Simon of Cyrene, and the Women

A And they compelled a passer-by, Simon of Cyre'ne.... the father of Alexander and Rufus,

...B who was coming in from the country, 

......C to carry his cross.

.........D And they brought him to the place called Gol'gotha (which means the place of a ……skull).

The above, Turton writes, “nicely parallels” the following:

.........D and also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem

......C followed him, and ministered to him;

...B when he was in Galilee,

A There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Mag'dalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salo'me,

Turton explains:

This offers us three men as opposed to three women, 2 sons of one mother as opposed to 2 sons of one father, "Galilee" opposed to "coming in from the country", "taking up the cross" opposed to "following and ministering", "they" who bring opposed to "many other women", and finally, "Golgotha" opposed to "Jerusalem."

One may argue, against Turton, that the three women are actually present, while only one man is present. Alexander and Rufus are only mentioned in identifying Simon of Cyre'ne, who was their father. It is like arguing that the statement “Idi Amin Dada, who drowned two hundred cripples, was present” is referring to two hundred and one people. “when he was in Galilee” should be opposed with when he was outside Galilee, not "coming in from the country", whose opposite is "leaving for the country". How can a noun (Galilee) be opposed with a verb ("coming in from the country")? It is also unclear how Golgotha opposes Jerusalem. These parallels are certainly problematic.

The following statement may need clarification because by its framing, it isolates the transient and intermittent dissenting voice from what is favorably identified as “mainstream scholarship”. The “voice outside the mainstream” comes out as marginal and inconsistent:

Mainstream scholarship is almost entirely unanimous in accepting that Jesus died by Crucifixion, though now and then a voice outside the mainstream disputes this.

8.11 Bare Fact Trips Literary Creation

The following statement may be confusing to some because of the phrase “bare fact of Jesus’ crucifixion”. Does the phrase mean that Turton believes that Jesus’ crucifixion is a bare fact? The statement conflicts with the notion that Jesus’ death was a literary creation, which is embodied in the same passage.

Certainly Paul speaks of the Crucifixion, but he knows nothing about it -- date, timing, location, and details all appear to be an invention of the writer of Mark working off the OT. The Death of Jesus is a supreme literary creation, and there is no support for historicity in this pericope, save for the bare fact of Jesus' crucifixion.

8.12 Plausible Deniability

It is intriguing to find a form of plausible deniability in Mark. Turton brushes past it and smells irony in it instead. We see this below:

The visit of the women looks like literary invention designed to create witnesses to the Empty Tomb. It is important to note that under Jewish law women could not be "fully qualified as witnesses" (Theissen and Merz 1998, p497). Markan irony at work again?

Plausible deniability here is used in a similar fashion that UFO believers, like Jim Deardoff use it. They argue that UFO aliens present evidence of their presence whilst at the same time presenting evidence or taking actions that raise suspicions that the witnesses are hoaxers or were mistaken. This strategy, the UFO believers maintain, ensures that people are not forced to believe what they don’t want to believe.

Mark’s author presents something that is inconsistent with Jewish law (women as "fully qualified witnesses") as noted above, but presents it anyway. It could be Markan irony as Turton notes (assuming that Mark was familiar with Jewish law), or a beautiful example of plausible deniability. Plausible deniability though, as far as I know, is not employed in literary study. Just an idea.

9. Conclusion

Turton’s commentary has great potential of revolutionizing historical Jesus stories and is likely to be used as a touchstone in future when examining the synoptic problem. It is likely to generate a lot of controversy because it proposes theories that go against generally accepted ideas like Markan independence or unfamiliarity with Paul, Thomasine precedence over Mark and the existence of Q. It is also likely to add to a collection of the works done by liberal scholars like Robert Price, Earl Doherty, G. A. Wells, Richard Carrier and Tim Thompson, which favour the Christ-myth hypothesis.

The commentary occupies a fertile ground that can be a turning point for many in the New Testament scholarship because it employs several historico-critical and literary methods whilst touching on important questions in the field of NT scholarship, exposing the reader to several new insights to perennial questions in the field. It is important to find a way of presenting this fleshy cleavage, bedecked with jewels, in a fashion that is systematic and more structured, even as we appreciate that this is a commentary and therefore follows the pre-existing order available in the gospel of Mark.

10. Notes and References

[1.] Gunkel H., Legends of Genesis, 88-122

[2.] Trible P., Rhetorical Criticism, Context, Method and the Book of Jonah, 1994, p.23

[3.] Muilenberg J., Form Criticism and Beyond, p.18

[4.] The term “chiasm” derives from the shape of the Greek letter chi(X). Trible, op. cit., p.53 notes that “Chiasm designates inverted correspondences between words, phrases, sentences or larger units.”

[5.] Trible, op. cit., p. 35

[6.] Simply put, typology is the systematic classification of types that have characteristics or traits in common. Powell defines a typological reference (unlike a chronological reference) as “indicative of the time during which an action transpires. When the narrator of John’s gospel says that Nicodemus came to Jesus “by night” (3:2), he does not mean to indicate when the meeting occurred (which night?) but rather to inform us that it was night at the time.” Powell, M.A., What is Narrative Criticism?, 1990, p.73

[7.] Turton writes in C2: “the Cynics deployed chreiai ("useful"), anecdotes which show the teacher fielding questions that test his abilities and show him "emerging unscathed from a difficult, challenging situation" (Mack 1995, p54).”

[8.] Powell, op. cit., p.33

[9.] Powell, op. cit., p.7

[10.] German scholar Hermann Gunkel (1862-1932) played a major role in shaping form criticism (Form-geschichte). Its principal topics comprise oral tradition, genre, setting in life and extra-biblical parallels. As such, it is a literary-sociological sort of inquiry.

[11.] Powell, op. cit., p.14, referencing Norman Perrin, The Evangelist as Author: Reflections on Method in the Study and Interpretation of the Synoptic Gospels and Acts, BiblRes 17 (1972);5-18, esp. 9-11

[12.] Trible notes: “The word ‘climax’ derives from Greek meaning ‘ladder’. It designates a series of parallel items in ascending order of intensity. The word inclusio derives from the Latin. It designates a parallelism of words, phrases or sentences between the beginning and the end of a unit. Chiasm may be viewed as a series of inclusios.”,op. cit.,p.27

[13.] Powell op. cit., p.15

[14.] Powell notes that “The ironic link between these two women may be even greater if the “flow of blood” is understood as a reference to menstruation and “12 years of age” as a reference to the approximate onset of puberty” op. cit. p.73

[15.] Powell, op. cit., p47

[16.] A Assyria campaigns against its enemies (2:14-3:10)

....B The Israelite leader Joachim orders preparations for war (4:1-15)

….....C Achior is expelled from the Assyrian camp (5:1-6:11)

….....C’Achior is received into the Israelite city (6:12-21)

....B’The Assyrian general Holofernes orders preparations for war (7:1-5)

A’Assyria campaigns against its enemies (7:6-32)

 Adopted from Trible, op. cit., p.37, who references Toni Craven, Artistry and Faith in the Book of Judith,1983.

[17.] Powell, op. cit., p.75 notes: “the Jordan river, the site of John’s baptism, served previously as the threshold for Israel’s entrance into “the promised land”.

[18.] Upensky B., A Poetics of Composition: The Structure of the Artistic Text and Typology of a Compositional Form, 1973.

[19.] Scholes and Kellog, Nature of Narrative, p.240

[20.] Op. cit., p.31 referring to Culpepper, Anatomy of Fourth Gospel, 169-75 and Rhoads and Michie, Mark as Story, p.60

[21.] Turton writes: “A good example of the typical style is Peter's denial, in the A-B-A' format. While Jesus affirms who he is, Peter is out in the courtyard, denying who Jesus is. Then even as the soldiers mock Jesus and tell him to "Prophesy!" as if he can't, his prophecy of Peter's denial is coming true out in the courtyard.”(C6). And “the story of the woman with bloody hemorrhage sandwiched between the account of Mark's raising of the daughter of Jairus.” As I noted above, the idea that Jairus’ daughter, who was 12, and therefore probably starting her menstrual flows, juxtaposed with a woman whose 12 year bleeding was stopped by Jesus, must be a literary construction.

[22.] Paul Duke, Irony in the Fourth Gospel, 1985, p.2

[23.] Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, (Narrative Space and Mythic Meaning in Mark, 1986) classifies spatial settings in Mark into these three categories

[24.] Powell, op. cit., p.75 notes: “The desert or wilderness is a place of testing for Jesus (40 days) just as it was for Israel (40 years). The sea is a threatening place of chaos and destruction, producing sudden storms that recall the chaos of the waters in Israel’s creation story or the devastating effects of the great flood.”

[25.] Powell, op. cit., p.76-77

[26.] Malbon employ’s Levi Strauss’ scheme of structural analysis (which is based in finding opposites) in her classifications. Pyromanic post-structuralists reading this review would perhaps set her work in a deconstructionist fire just to experience the delight of seeing the binary oppositions implicit in her work melt and fuse together and ultimately collapse in swirling jelly of multiple meanings.

[27.] Powell, op. cit., p.77

[28.] Powell references Rhoads and Michie, Mark as Story, p.64-65

[29.] Powell, op. cit., p.78

[30.] Richard Carrier, Review of The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark

[31.] Earl Doherty notes in his review of Crossan's Birth of Christianity: "Bizarre doesn't begin to cover it. A displaced peasant, a landless laborer, who (as Crossan presents him) couldn't read, couldn't write, couldn't speak Greek, makes his way to the capital city of Judaism with its sophisticated ruling elite, its Temple, the center of religious and imperial authority, promptly gets himself executed in the most ignominious fashion, and is then elevated by souls unknown to the highest level of divinity just about any human has ever reached. And the one thing which might conceivably have made some impression on those who engineered this fantastic response, a set of radical and visionary social reforms (even if they couldn't possibly be put into practice), is not even allowed to enter the picture, whose echo never puts in an appearance in the new "tradition". Even if Crossan is exaggerating Jesus' deficiencies, what scenario could possibly explain how such a thing came to pass?"
From Doherty's analysis, one can see the unlikelihood of Jesus' entry attracting the sort of attention as portrayed in Mark; a further argument against the historicity of the scene.